Having a large zoom lens is one of the things that beginning photographers seem to want more than any other feature. This desire makes a lot of sense. After all, there are times when you simply cannot move physically closer to your subject, and a large zoom gives you the chance to shoot a good photo.
Keep a couple of things in mind when you're looking for ultra zoom cameras, however. First, a point and shoot camera with a large zoom lens may be a bit more susceptible to camera shake, especially the closer to the maximum zoom you get. Second, you want to make sure the zoom number you're looking at is the optical zoom, not the digital zoom.
With that in mind, here are the best ultra zoom cameras I've seen in the market lately. For this list, ultra zoom cameras are considered those with at least a 15X optical zoom lens. (The cameras are listed in order from smallest to largest optical zoom lens.)
The F300EXR is a slightly older model that made my list of the best cameras for 2010. Despite having a bit of age, the F300EXR, and its 15X optical zoom lens, offers very impressive features.
The EXR image sensor, which helps cameras succeed in especially tough shooting conditions, helped Fujifilm win a 2010 DIMA Innovation Award.
With the F300EXR, you'll find 12.0 megapixels of resolution, a 3.0-inch LCD, 720p HD video movie recording, along with the 15X optical zoom lens. Measuring only 1.3 inches in thickness, the F300EXR is one of the thinnest cameras available with such a large zoom lens, and it offers one of the best combinations of value and performance in this price range.
Finding one of these features in a camera is always nice; finding all three in a camera -- that carries a pretty low price tag -- is pretty rare. Throw in really good image quality and sharp focus, and the ZS10 is a very powerful camera.
Nikon has paired style with a powerful 18X optical zoom lens in the Coolpix S9100 point and shoot camera.
You'll find a 12.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor with the S9100. The S9100's 3.0-inch high-resolution LCD screen is impressive, and this camera can shoot full 1080p HD video.
Nikon is offering the S9100 in three colors -- black, silver, or pink/red -- although a gold-colored S9100 is available in some parts of the world. Pairing this sharp-looking thin model with a big zoom lens is a nice combination.
Olympus has included the ability to shoot 720p HD video, to use WiFi to connect to a computer, and to shoot in a 3D photo mode, all of which are impressive features for this price range.
It also does a nice job with flash photos, which doesn't happen with every thin, point and shoot camera with a big zoom lens.
Panasonic has built quite a few very interesting features into a point and shoot camera that measures only 1.1 inches in thickness with its Lumix DMC-ZS20 model.
The ZS20 includes a 20X optical zoom lens, a 3.0-inch high-resolution touch-screen LCD, and a built-in GPS unit. In addition, the Lumix ZS20, which was introduced at CES 2012, includes 14.1MP of resolution and full HD 1080p video recording capabilities.
That's a lot of really nice features in the ZS20, which is a beginner-level camera that's available in black, red, silver, and gray/white camera body colors. It's one of the better thin ultra zoom cameras in the market right now.
If you're someone who just can't decide between a point and shoot camera that provides great telephoto capabilities or one that can shoot wide angle images, Samsung may be ready to come to your rescue.
Samsung's recently released WB850F provides a 21X optical zoom lens, while it also can shoot at a wide angle of 23mm, providing photographers with the best of both worlds. In addition, it only measures a little over 1.3 inches in thickness, although the main portion of the camera body is less than an inch in depth.
The WB850F has a built-in WiFi capability, which is a nice feature for uploading a photo quickly to social networking sites, as well as built-in GPS.
The WB850F's other photography-related features include 16.2MP of resolution, a 3.0-inch high-resolution AMOLED screen, and full HD video capabilities.
It might be a pretty rare point and shoot camera where a feature like a 24X optical zoom lens isn't the headlining feature, but that seems to be the case with the Olympus SZ-30MR.
The SZ-30MR includes a 16MP CMOS image sensor, which reduces noise in low-light photos. You'll find a 3.0-inch LCD screen, and a camera body that measures only 1.6 inches in thickness.
Most impressively, however, the SZ-30MR can record 1080p HD video and 16MP still photos at the same time. This interesting camera carries a high price tag, but it has some high-end features to go with it.
Fujifilm's X-S1 digital camera is a fixed lens camera that includes some high-end features that you may find with a DSLR camera.
The X-S1, which was announced by Fujifilm just before CES 2012, offers a precision Fujinon 26X optical zoom lens. It includes a popup flash and a viewfinder, along with a 3.0-inch, high-resolution LCD.
The highlight of the X-S1, however, is its large image sensor, which is a 2/3-inch sensor. This allows the X-S1 to excel in low light.
You won't find many fixed lens cameras in such a high price range, so it may be tough for Fujifilm to gain a lot of traction here, but it's impossible to argue with the great features of this camera.
The P500 carries a 36X optical zoom lens. In addition, Nikon has given the P500 strong wide angle capabilities with a zoom range of 22.5mm to 810mm, and Nikon says the P500 is a strong macro performer, thanks to its powerful lens.
You'll find 12.1 megapixels of resolution in the P500's CMOS image sensor, a high-resolution 3-inch LCD screen, and 1080p HD video capabilities. The P500, which is available in a red or black camera body, carries a strong list of specifications, and it's simply one of the best cameras in the market.
With a 40X optical zoom lens, the Olympus SP-820UZ iHS provides yet another high-powered fixed-lens camera to the market heading into the holiday shopping season.
The SP-820UZ has 14.0 megapixels of resolution in a 1/2.3-inch CMOS image sensor, a 3.0-inch LCD screen, and full 1080p HD video capabilities. The SP-820UZ can run from AA batteries, which sets it apart from some other cameras with large zoom lenses. It also can work seamlessly with Eye-Fi SD memory cards.
When I reviewed the Nikon Coolpix P500 last year, I thought it was easily one of the best cameras released in 2011. Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to having a chance to look at the upgrade to that model, the recently released Coolpix P510 from Nikon.
With a 42X optical zoom lens as the highlighted feature, there's a lot to like about the specification list of the P510. It also has a 16.1MP CMOS image sensor, a high-resolution 3.0-inch LCD that can tilt and swivel, and an HD video mode.
The P510 isn't a small camera, and it has a large price tag, but if it builds on the very strong P500, this model will be among the best in 2012. The P510 is offered in red and black.
However, the star feature of the SX50 HS is the 50X optical zoom lens, which carries an amazing 24mm to 1200 mm range. As far as I can decipher, the SX50 HS is the largest optical zoom lens on a fixed lens camera currently in the market.